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Golden glow returning to kiwifruit sector

After four of the most challenging seasons the sector has ever faced, kiwifruit returns are being buoyed by renewed optimism in the sector’s future.

“It appears the sun has finally come out again on the kiwifruit sector after what could be described as a very tumultuous tough few years given the various labour and quality challenges the sector had to face. The sector weathered that storm extremely well and is in a much stronger position now”, says Nick Hawken, Bayleys National Rural Director.

Looking ahead after this season’s harvest, Bayleys BoP Regional Manager Matt Clutterbuck says Zespri’s latest profit announcement does much to point to better times ahead after the sector doubled down on fruit quality last year.

That reflected in better per tray returns, particularly for Green fruit which jumped from $5.78 a tray in 2022-23 to $9.55 a tray for the 2023-24 financial year.

“We have also just learnt that the bud promotant Hi-Cane can continue to be used. Having that certainty around spray utilisation is a big confidence tick for growers who need it to run productive, profitable orchards.”

The recent auction round for SunGold kiwifruit licences also offers some good opportunities for growers to cutover Green for the higher value fruit.

“We have seen the licence settle at about $400,000 a hectare, markedly down on the past prices. This has lowered the entry investment required, giving growers confidence to cutover next year, and also leaves more wriggle room for green field developments.”

There is also a refocus on tried-and-true kiwifruit growing districts, with buyers placing more value on orchards with a long established, consistent production record in areas renown for their reliability.

“This has come on the back of the various weather events different areas have experienced, whether they be floods, wind events or frosts.

“Those areas like Te Puke that have always delivered are getting more attention again. They are consistently good producing districts for a reason.”

Last year’s slide in crop volumes to 130 million trays provided the sector with the opportunity to not only refocus on fruit quality after a problematic 2022 harvest.

It also gave the post-harvest sector breathing space to assess its capacity and productivity as larger harvests loomed.

With that has come significant investment into more automated pack house operations, helping reduce reliance upon variable seasonal staffing supplies and ever climbing staff costs.

“This has also been helped by there being less of an issue around staff availability compared to previous years, with a good supply of RSE workers and overseas backpackers available.”

Meantime, overseas markets are continuing to clamour for Zespri kiwifruit and particularly for SunGold fruit that is proving to have a wide appeal across both Asia and Europe.

The recent launch of RubyRed has helped reinforce the fruit offerings, while Zespri continues to work on improving that fruit’s keeping properties to broaden its export options.

“As a sector, kiwifruit have proven exceptionally capable of dealing with the various challenges it has had thrown at it over the past few years, with a very good level of collaboration between growers, post-harvest processors and Zespri.

“It is set up well to meet the growing volume of fruit due in coming years, backed by increasingly efficient post-harvest operators and a very sophisticated marketer in Zespri,” says Matt Clutterbuck.

View the full Rural Insight report here.

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